Saturday, April 13, 2024

Fluence: Monarch (Part VII)

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Weaver stepped towards Misha Collins, who looked at her with some level of familiarity, suggesting that he had been here before, or had at least seen her somewhere. He wasn’t shocked or scared, but more annoyed. She reached out to shake his hand, but pulled it away before he could reach back. “Sorry. First. Do you know who we are?”
“You’re Holly Blue, Goswin Montagne, Eight Point Seven Point Two, and Briar. I never learned his last name.”
“Have you been to this location before?” Weaver pressed.
Misha looked around. “Yes. About a month ago.”
“I wish I knew which kind of month we’re talking about,” Weaver muttered to herself. That is, had it also been three months in the Ediacaran period? Understanding whether the disparate time periods were somehow linked to one another could help prevent this from happening again. She reached her hand out once more, but pulled back yet again at the last second. “Sorry, do you like...salmon?”
“I suppose I do, as much as anyone,” Misha said, confused.
“I didn’t say salmon,” Weaver tried to clarify, “I said salmon.” This was a test of sorts. When a time traveler encountered someone whose understanding of time was in question, pointedly asking them whether they liked salmon should indicate at least a baseline. If they thought that they were only talking about the actual fish, they probably didn’t know anything, or perhaps just not very much.
“I’m sorry, I don’t hear the difference,” Misha admitted. He was a human, and while this obviously wasn’t his first time around the block, other shifted selves of this group had so far kept him pretty well in the dark about the details.
“Holly Blue,” she echoed, finally shaking his hand, “but you can call me Weaver.”
“You can call me Castiel, if you want. A lot of people prefer it.”
“We need to get you home, Mister Collins,” Goswin said, also stepping forward. “If you’ve met others like us, and returned home, then they must have figured out how to do it.”
“They just surrounded me in a circle, closed their eyes, and then I was home.”
“That’s all it was?” Eight Point Seven asked.
“Oh.” Misha pointed to Weaver. “You tapped something on this refrigerator, and said something about a bubble.”
“I don’t know how he got through the bubble in the first place,” Weaver began, “but we’ll probably have to drop it to send him back. It would be the only safe way to do it. But we should be quick. We never know when other shifted selves will show up. We could have just missed the group that came before us. Measuring time is difficult. I don’t even keep a clock in here, except for my special watch. I may have left it somewhere...”
“Do what you gotta do,” Goswin requested. “Let’s make this quick. We’ll try to send him back where he belongs, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll just go with him.”
“Wait, there was one more thing,” Misha remembered. “You gave me this.” He knelt down and pulled something off of his shoelace aglet, handing it to Weaver.
She inspected it. “This is a temporal tracker. She probably used it to make sure that you were returned to where you belonged, instead of Belgium, or something. You weren’t meant to keep it; that’s why you were able to break through the bubble.”
“I must have missed that part,” Misha said. “I was looking at the sea cucumber.”
Weaver looked over at the glass. “That’s not a cucumber. What was the date?”
“The first time it happened was January 11, 2011,” Misha answered. “This time, it was February 25.”
She handed him the tracker back. “All right. Wait thirty minutes, and then step on it. I mean exactly thirty minutes. Set your watch to it.”
“I understand,” Misha promised.
“Okay.” Weaver went over to the refrigerator, and started tapping on the screen. Blast doors dropped down over the glass, to block the view of the water, and its sea creatures. She kept tapping on it, causing the space around them to shimmer, implying that the temporal bubble was now down. They all felt a small lurch in their stomachs as a result. Still, Weaver kept tapping on the fridge. They started to hear a persistent beep from down the hallway, the exact source of which was not clear.
“I think your smoke detector needs a new battery,” Misha guessed.
“It’s fine, we like fire,” Weaver said oddly. “You heard the man. Let’s put him in a circle.” They all came together, and held hands, even Briar, who wanted to fix this just as much as the rest of them.
Goswin was the captain here, and even though Weaver knew a lot more about this stuff, he needed to step on up. “We’re trying to get our new friend here back to February 25, 2011. February 25 in...”
“Vancouver. You don’t need to know my exact address; anywhere there is fine.”
“Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada,” Goswin said. “Everyone think about that, and nothing else.”
They shut their eyes instinctually, and focused on the goal. None of them wanted to open their eyes for fear of breaking concentration, but success was fairly obvious when they felt a short burst of wind, and heard the flap of wings. They each peeked with one eye, and found there to only be three others in the room. Weaver checked the tracker output on the fridge. “He’s home.”
“What’s to stop it from happening again?” Goswin asked. “It happened once before, it could happen a third time, and more, and nothing can stop it.”
“You hear that beeping noise?” Weaver posed.
“Yeah?” Briar answered in the form of a question.
Weaver sucked her teeth a little. “We should go. Oh, there’s my watch.”
They climbed out of the bunker, and back onto the surface. One set of their shifted selves was standing out there already, with their version of Weaver trying to unlock the door using the secret boulder switch. “Weaver!One,” she acknowledged with a nod of her head.
“Weaver!Two,” the first Weaver replied.
“Had to be done.”
“How long?”
Weaver!One looked back at the steps as the hatch was closing up. “It’s soon enough. We should all go.”
“We came here for a reason,” the other Briar pointed out.
“The cons outweigh the pros,” Weaver!One tried to explain. “Now hustle off. Don’t let us get mixed up with each other.”
When Weaver!One tried to walk away, Weaver!Two took her by the arm. “Don’t go back to the Nucleus.” Her eyes darted over to the first Goswin. “One of them has taken his job a little too seriously. We barely escaped.”
“One of the Goswins?” Weaver!One asked.
“Just don’t go to the Nucleus,” she reiterated. “At least one group ended up on Dardius, where they were forced to watch some bizarre propaganda films. They’re taking the Reality Wars very seriously, they think we should join, and they have a way of keeping us from shifting away.” She didn’t say anything more about it.
The two groups separated from each other, and disappeared. At least that was what presumably happened. The first version of the crew leapt away first, leaving the newcomers’ fates in question. Perhaps they would go down into the bunker, halt the self-destruct sequence, and start the whole cycle over again. Misha Collins could spend the rest of his life being shifted back and forth to the Ediacaran period, altering future events irrevocably. It was possible that every other Weaver or Holly Blue who took her copy of the crew to that place inevitably made the same choice to destroy it, only for her plan to be unknowingly thwarted by the next copy. Time and reality were now defined by chaos. That was only meant to be the expected end state of the universe, not the beginning of it, nor the middle.
“This is where you grew up?” Eight Point Seven asked. They were standing by a pond in the middle of a small field, with a forest all around them.
“Monarch, Belgium,” Goswin confirmed. “Population: zero.”
“Your family was the only one here?” Eight Point Seven continued the interview.
“There were others...until the very end. In the late 21st century, when they started erecting all the arcological megastructures, of course most people eventually moved to them, or they wouldn’t have been successful. It was the rewilding effort that did it. As antienvironmentalists started to be turned over to death, it became easier and easier to convince people that giving the land back to nature was the only ethical choice given our technological ability to accomplish it. They left their homes, and made new ones. The cities disappeared, both in name, and in infrastructure. I believe they used to call this Ghent. Ghent didn’t get an arcology. The nearest one is closer to where Antwerp was.”
“Yet some people didn’t do that?”
“The megatowers are more environmentally friendly for sustaining the massive population of the whole planet, but it’s okay if a few choose other methods. North America had their circles, and we had our villages. We lived in arcologies too, just not gigantic ones. We lived on the land, but we didn’t live off of it, instead importing produce from vertical farms. That was my job for a time, pulling the cart of food by bicycle. That’s all I did; just pedaled back and forth from the village to the arc.” He stared at the pond. “Over and over and over and over and over again.” He paused for a few moments. “I got tired of the monotony, so I left. I had studied both history and futurology, so I knew that the villages would die out too. It was only a matter of time before kids like me decided that there were more social options in the towers. I won’t get into how I moved up to become the Futurology Administrator of the whole world, but...I’ll never forget where I came from. This is where my mother died. She wasn’t transhuman, so she only lived for 74 years. My dad underwent some treatments, but he stopped them for her. Unfortunately, I guess, it was too little too late. He still outlived her by 21 years. But not here. After the second to last person left Monarch, he left too, and moved into my cluster in the arc.”
Goswin looked up as if just remembering that he was talking to other people. “For those of you who don’t know, the arcologies are modular. Each unit is the same size, and comes with a baseline configuration, which includes a bathroom. It can be turned into a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, a bedroom, or even a simulacrum of an outdoor space, among other variations. And they can be moved around, so he didn’t move into my cluster of units so much as they literally picked up my one unit, and flew it down to another slot; one that had empty units next to it, which we began to occupy together.”
“Where are we in the timeline?” Eight Point Seven asked him. “Are you still on Earth? Is your father?”
Goswin took a deep breath, and twisted Weaver’s wrist, which sported a watch that always told her the time, even when she traveled through it in the wrong direction, or at the wrong speed. “We were very precise with this jump. My younger self left with my dad fifteen minutes ago. We just had my mother’s burial ceremony.”
“Where’s her grave?” Briar asked.
Goswin actually smiled. “Over here.” He led them down the path a ways.
“Monarch butterflies,” Eight Point Seven pointed out as a few of them began to land on her arms and head.
“Our namesake,” Goswin explained. “Like I was saying, they gave all this back to nature, but they didn’t just let it grow on its own. They planted things on purpose according to a very well thought out ecology algorithm, generated by an entity such as yourself. They decided that Belgium would do well with milkweed, and with milkweed comes Monarch butterflies.” He continued through the trees until coming to another clearing. A gravestone marked the spot where his mother was laid to rest, but it wasn’t altogether necessary. A swarm of monarchs were keeping watch over it.
“It’s beautiful,” Briar couldn’t help but say. He was starting to relax into himself.
“We can’t stay,” Weaver said with a sigh. “We have to go back to the Nucleus.”
Goswin nodded gently, though no one was looking at him; they were still watching the monarchs flutter about. “I know,” he whispered.
“You heard?”
“I may look like a regular human, but I have excellent hearing.”
“Are you prepared to meet your possibly evil self?”
He took a beat, but then answered confidently with, “yes.”

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